You reached your baby's due date. And then you passed it. Are you feeling a little antsy? Well, I have some good news for you: Acupuncture is completely safe and it works. Whether you decide to labor at home or in a hospital, you can naturally induce labor while preparing your body for delivery.
By that, I mean – relaxation.
Laboring is hard work. And all that work can create tension in your body (and stress in your mind), which can slow things down.
The not-so-great news is that more and more obstetricians recommend scheduling a medical induction when an expectant mom nears her due date.
What's the harm in that, you may wonder.
The problem with this is one medical intervention increases the risk for more interventions, including an epidural and in some cases ending with a c-section delivery.
And while some birth interventions can saves lives, the Unites States is particularly heavy-handed when it comes to assisting birth and delivery. For example, unlike US birth standards, in the United Kingdom:
- Prenatal care is free
- Most women use midwives instead of obstetricians
- There is more of an emphasis on natural childbirth
- Far less interventions are used
- Epidurals are administered less frequently
- Birth tubs standard at most births
- C-sections rate 1/3 of the U.S. 33% c-section rate
While the given reasons for induction vary, most inductions are unnecessary. And with plenty of evidence that a natural birth passes along a mom's good bacteria, these interventions even can potentially have lifelong consequences.
Sounds extreme? Let's unpack what labor induction really means.
Is it safe to carry a baby past the decided due date?
Your baby's due date is “decided.” At best, it's a rough estimate based on baby's size and your last period. And while it's easiest to lock in on one date, it's not realistic. As a friend and colleague likes to remind his patients, “You don't want your cupcake to come out gooey in the middle, so leave it in the oven' til it's done!”
Babies are not meant to be summoned whenever we choose. They do not spend nine months growing in the uterus and then decide to stay through preschool.
If left to their own devices, most babies would come out without needing an early jump-start.
A common fear that I hear all the time in my office is that the baby is getting too big. The truth is that most mothers' bodies are designed to birth whatever size baby they grow.
Another worry, and very occasionally for good reason, is the level of amniotic fluid. Sometimes low fluid can be caused by dehydration and easily corrected by drinking more liquids. In rare cases, this may be a true cause for an induction.
Other valid reasons for induction are previous difficult labor, toxemia, or pre-eclampsia.
The bottom line is that if you have had a healthy pregnancy, are having no unusual symptoms, and baby is doing well, medical induction is probably not necessary.
The problem with a medically induced labor
One of the biggest problems with induction is that you are given pitocin, the synthetic form of oxytocin. Ocytocin is your “love” hormone and it supports lactation after baby arrives. As you might guess, artificial oxytocin interferes with your body's ability to make its own – potentially thwarting your breastfeeding relationship with your baby.
For moms who expect to breastfeed, this can be a problem.
Pitocin is often given after insertions for “cervical ripening.” With pitocin you’re more likely to have sudden, painful contractions.
This bumps up your chances of receiving anesthesia for the pain. There’s a greater risk of hyperstimulation, which is when a single contraction lasts for two minutes or more. And there's a greater likelihood of fetal distress.
Because of these risks, induction usually means that continuous electronic fetal monitoring is necessary, which can restrict mom's movement and slow the progress of labor. If this goes on for too long, doctors may feel the need to perform an emergency c-section.
Are you seeing the snowball effect yet?
A c-section delivery isn't the end of the world. But it does expose baby to operating room microbes first. And this can later interfere with the development of baby's immune system and gut health.
What's more, babies whose mothers are given pitocin are also more likely to have lower Apgar scores.
Forget long walks, spicy food, and steamy sex
Okay, you can keep them if you want. But add to your bag of tricks a few sessions with your acupuncturist.
If you've never tried acupuncture, it's like this: Tiny needles get blood and energy circulating throughout your body while your mind calms down. You may even fall asleep.
During the late stages of pregnancy, a licensed acupuncturist stimulates a few points on the body around the hands, legs, and low back. This can make you feel more comfortable and safely move labor along – without the snowball effect of increasingly “necessary” medical interventions.
In a 2004 review published by the Cochrane Library, researchers found that evidence that acupuncture can stimulate uterine activity and help with cervical ripening. And in 2015, a study determined that laser acupuncture (yes, needles aren't always necessary) could safely induce labor if mom is less than 1 cm dilated.
In my experience treating hundreds of pregnant women for over thirteen years, there's something that happens during acupuncture for labor induction beyond what these studies touch on. From the outside, it looks just like deep relaxation. But I can only describe it as a profound quieting that allows mom to get out her own way, signaling to her baby and her body that labor can safely commence.
It's pretty darn beautiful actually.
While we need more research before acupuncture becomes part of standard hospital care for laboring moms, there is now plenty of science showing that it works. It's also extremely safe. And it reduces riskier interventions like a c-section delivery.